North Korean state media has praised Friday’s inter-Korean summit as a “historic” and “groundbreaking development” that will help bring peace to the Korean Peninsula, in a stark shift in tone Saturday from one of the world’s most tightly controlled propaganda machines.
Less than 24 hours after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in vowed to formally end the Korean War and work towards the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that the leaders’ efforts “will set a new milestone with a transformational significance that will connect the broken bloodline of the nation and push forward common prosperity and independent unification.”
The report from KCNA – the government mouthpiece famous for publishing threats to turn Seoul into “a sea of fire” – was likely the first news that ordinary North Koreans received about what transpired at the summit.
On Friday, Kim became the first North Korean leader to step foot into South Korean territory since the end of the fighting in the Korean War in 1953. As he and Moon shook hands, planted a symbolic tree and worked their way through a day of choreographed events that were beamed around the world, North Koreans did not have access to live coverage of the day.
While North Korean reporters followed the summit up close from the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, KCNA and state television Friday only announced that Kim had left Pyongyang for the summit. That was followed by a documentary on the late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il – Kim Jong Un’s father – and propaganda songs. North Korea state television only broadcasts live once or twice a day.
Korean Central Television reported news of the summit in a broadcast on Saturday afternoon.
The North Korean government tightly controls the flow of information inside the country, and average citizens are often severely punished for consuming media not sanctioned by Pyongyang, according to defectors.
“There’s not much of a contrast in how South Korea and North Korea are reporting this,” said Michael Madden, a visiting scholar at the University of Johns Hopkins US-Korea Institute. “I’m kind of stunned that they’re following the script.”
Though the KCNA piece made no mention of denuclearization, it published the joint declaration itself, which states that “South and North Korea confirmed the common goal of realizing, through complete denuclearization, a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.”
North Korean state media has mentioned the country’s willingness to give up its nuclear weapons previously, but usually with the caveat that the United States must abandon its “hostile policy” toward Pyongyang.
“Indirectly, they’ve talked about conditions of denuclearization in the past,” said Vipin Narang, a professor of political science at MIT and a member of the school’s Security Studies Program. “Reaffirming denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula is like vanilla ice cream now, it’s par for the course.”
‘Feelings of blood relatives’
Though KCNA made limited mention of the nuclear issue, the florid language it used to describe the meeting and its participants was revealing. Madden, the expert on North Korean leadership, says Pyongyang is often effusive in its praise when meetings go well.
KCNA described Moon as “President Moon,” a telling honorific given that North Korea officially considers the government in Seoul illegitimate. The outlet often refers to the South Korean government as a puppet or vassal state of the United States. Moon’s predecessor, the conservative Park Geun-hye, was often called “traitor Park.”
The report said the dinner between Kim and Moon proceeded “in an amicable atmosphere overflowing with feelings of blood relatives.”
And Moon’s diplomatic outreach to Kim was described as sincere, which Madden says is a telling sign from Pyongyang.
“Sincere is a big key word for the North Koreans over the years,” Madden said. “That sounds like a lot of hooey for us in the United States or people in the English-speaking world … but that’s a big deal, that North Korea thinks the South Koreans are being sincere.”
Despite the positive shift in tone, some experts are concerned that the lack of details in Friday’s accord could mean little is achieved in the end.
“My mark for the summit’s symbolism, its organization, and its ability to strike the right tone is definitely an A-plus. As for the substance, a big question mark remains,” said Evans Revere, a former chargé d’affaires for the US embassy in South Korea. “The core product of this historic meeting seems to be an agreement to do things that the two sides agreed to do in the past.”
CNN’s Stella Ko contributed to this report